I’ve been following a couple of conversations about a recent story that has been floating around the web from an antinuclear Chicken Little named Robert Alvarez. According to Alvarez, a man who seems to believe that it is physically possible for dense, corrosion-resistant, solid material to instantaneously vaporize, the spend fuel pool at Fukushima Daiichi unit 4 poses an imminent risk to the safety of everyone on earth.
Of course, I am exaggerating slightly for effect. It’s called literary license.
Here is one media source’s version of what Alvarez has actually written about the risk from that spent fuel pool:
A report released in February by the Independent Investigation Commission on the nuclear accident called this pool “the weakest link” at Fukushima. Robert Alvarez, former Senior Policy Adviser to the Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Security and the Environment at the U.S. Department of Energy warns that, “If an earthquake or other event were to cause this pool to drain it could result in a catastrophic radiological fire involving nearly 10 times the amount of Cs-137 released by the Chernobyl accident.”
How likely is this? While the structure of Reactor 4 is stable for the moment, the Dai-ichi plant lies miles from a big earthquake fault– as large as the one that caused last year’s quake, but much closer to Fukushima. According to a study published in February in the European Geosciences Union´s journal Solid Earth, that fault is now overdue for a quake.
You can find a more apocalyptic version at The Largest Short-Term Threat to Humanity: The Fuel Pools of Fukushima or you can try this one if that does not scare you enough Fukushima reactor is a threat to all (Please understand that I am NOT recommending fear and thing that the people publishing this junk are incredibly naive – or think all of the rest of us are.)
However, the story is somehow gaining some traction on the web and has even captured the attention of Senator Roy Wyden, who issued a press release on April 16 calling for urgent action.
Yesterday, Adam Curry, who produces a popular “media assassination” podcast called No Agenda with John C. Dvorak, contacted me. His email included an article that started out with the following hair raising tale.
Recently, former diplomats and experts both in Japan and abroad stressed the extremely risky condition of the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4 spent nuclear fuel pool and this is being widely reported by world media.
Robert Alvarez, Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), who is one of the best-known experts on spent nuclear fuel, stated that in Unit 4 there is spent nuclear fuel which contains Cesium-137 (Cs-137) that is equivalent to 10 times the amount that was released at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
Thus, if an earthquake or other event were to cause this pool to drain, this could result in a catastrophic radiological fire involving nearly 10 times the amount of Cs-137 released by the Chernobyl accident.
Nearly all of the 10,893 spent fuel assemblies at the Fukushima Daiichi plant sit in pools vulnerable to future earthquakes, with roughly 85 times more long-lived radioactivity than released at Chernobyl.
Nuclear experts from the US and Japan such as Arnie Gundersen, Robert Alvarez, Hiroaki Koide, Masashi Goto, and Mitsuhei Murata, a former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland, and, Akio Matsumura, a former UN diplomat, have continually warned against the high risk of the Fukushima Unit 4 spent nuclear fuel pool.
Adam asked: “What do you make of this? Fear mongering?”
Adam and I have been corresponding about nuclear energy issues for years, but I was a little busy, so I gave a very brief response.
“Absolutely. A more precise term is a crock of BS.”
Adam immediately fired back with “Can you give me something concrete to say about it on the show?”
That was my opening, so I provided a few credible sources and background material. Here is the way the story played, starting at 2:30:00 of Episode 405 of the No Agenda Show.
I suspect that discussion was heard by more people in the past few days than I could have reached in a whole year on Atomic Insights. My fervent hope is that it will cause at least a few reporters to check their sources more carefully before crowning them with the title of “nuclear energy expert.”
I also hope at least a few people slept just a little more soundly knowing that their fears were being irrationally stimulated by a music major dropout who has been milking an antinuclear gig for a couple of decades.
BTW – if you want a bit of an education about how the media works to pick memes and distract the public from obtaining important information, I highly recommend listening to No Agenda. It is not necessarily the most family friendly show on the web, and no matter what your political affiliation, I suspect that you will get a little defensive now and again. I suspect, however, that you will enjoy the experience, especially if you take some time to understand the inside jokes.
The Neutron Economy – Overheated Rods and Rhetoric